Dawn Seymour is a champion of bereavement care at Mercy Hospital’s Family Life Center, and she knows from the heart how important it is to care for families tenderly and with skill when a baby dies. “I found my own path because of my own personal loss, having lost twin boys in my first pregnancy in 2002. Something like Empty Arms didn’t exist back then, so we just had to figure everything out ourselves with the help of the staff that was there. Right after it happened to me the first thing I did was reach out to people in my own life who I remembered this had happened to-- I was burning the phone up, alone at home, not knowing what to do. All I wanted to do was talk to people who had been there. People love you and want to help you, but they don’t know what to say or what to do. I remember two specific people who had experienced a loss deep into their pregnancies and I reached out to them. I just knew they knew, and that’s all I needed to know. If we had had an organization like Empty Arms, I just can’t imagine how life changing that would have been.”
Dawn describes herself as a person “happily addicted” to her work as a nurse, and though it’s hard to imagine how she managed, she returned to a labor and delivery floor as soon as she was physically able to after the loss of her twins. She explains that while she was relieved not to be housebound, there were some difficult moments as she adjusted to being around healthy newborns and happy new parents. But there was something else that Dawn soon realized was a new strength. “It didn’t take long for me to realize that these horrible things that had happened to me were a gift as well. When the first patient came in with a loss I realized that I knew exactly what she was thinking and feeling, and I remember sitting next to the patient and holding her hand and saying, I’ve been here myself.”
In addition to clear and coherent emotional support, Dawn explains that a great part of how she supports families is knowing how to coordinate all the different family members who don’t know what to do. From grandparents to even the father of the baby, some people are able to find purpose in the midst of a crisis if they have a “job to do”. Dawn herself remembers, “I sent my mother in-law out to buy things for my sons when they died, I didn’t have anything for them to wear and she was so thrilled to have a job to do”. From funeral arrangements to running errands, Dawn helps to make sure that all the support people who are present at a loss feel purposeful.
Dawn explains, “It’s my role as a nurse to do whatever I can for families in my shift, but it’s segmented. It’s not organized, and loss is only a tiny portion of what we do. A loss encompasses so much more than delivering the baby. You can’t duplicate what Empty Arms is doing, in terms of offering long-term and really focused emotional care. It is an absolutely needed program that you don’t know you need until you do. Most people don’t think about baby loss until someone very close to them goes through it, and then they are ever so grateful to have something like Empty Arms available to them.
“As a nurse, Empty Arms takes what’s in my heart and expands it 10-fold. You guys are doing all the things that I want to see done for patients and what I would have loved to have had done for me. Like the castings, and the photographs- I would have loved to have that. Your ability to model for a family what is socially acceptable when a baby dies is beyond value”.
Dawn may feel grateful for us, but we feel exceptionally grateful to have nurses like Dawn as part of our team. Her deep, ingrained understanding of how important quality bereavement care is means that not only is she giving it to the families who need it, but she’s modeling it for the nurses around her who may not yet share her passion of caring for the bereaved.
We hope that you will feel moved to contribute to Empty Arms this June so that we can continue to bolster and expand our companion program. Thank you!